Preventing climate-driven species extinctions: a near impossible task

© Umweltbundesamt/D. Moser Gentiana clusii (sometimes called "Clusius' gentian") is threatened by climate change

Vienna, 18. October 2017 - Animal and plant species are trying to adapt to climate change by shifting their distributions. The intensive use of land by humans, however, makes it more and more difficult for such adaptation to take place. A research team of the Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research of the University of Vienna and the Umweltbundesamt (the Environment Agency Austria) has now shown for the first time that at least as far as Central Europe is concerned, the effectiveness of important measures (such as the conversion of land back to semi-natural habitats) has clear limitations. Even with major efforts, it will be difficult to prevent regional extinctions of some of the species examined. The study appears in the renowned journal "Nature Climate Change".


Greater climate warming and a more intensive use of land are putting species under extreme pressure. Scientists have observed shifts worldwide in the natural distributions of an increasing number of animal and plant species in response to climatic changes. The growing isolation of natural habitats increasingly restricts the movement of species. Extensification measures (such as converting intensively used agricultural and forest land back to semi-natural habitats) are aimed to improve habitat connectivity for species shifting their distribution in response to climate change.

Computer model allows for greater reliability of predictions

A team of biologists from the Department Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research of the University of Vienna and the Environment Austria developed a computer model which takes account of climate change, habitat fragmentation and the individual propagation capacity of 51 plant, butterfly and Orthoptera (grasshopper and cricket) species. "This approach enables us to make reliable predictions about the survival of the species we examined in coming decades", says Franz Essl, the study’s project leader and expert in biodiversity and nature conservation at the Environment Agency Austria. With this model, researchers can simulate future developments of species ranges in Central Europe in scenarios with different patterns of climate warming and a variety of extensification measures until the year 2100.
The models predict that in the 21st century around 20 per cent of the species examined will become extinct in the reference area (Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, South Tyrol and Southern Germany).



Sabine Enzinger, Press Office, Environment Agency Austria, Phone: +43-1-313 04-5488,

Alexandra Frey, Press Office, University of Vienna, Phone +43-1-4277-175 33, M +43-664-602 77-175 33,